Which NHL-affiliated prospects made the biggest strides year over year in our annual scouting poll?
Future Watch 2018. It’s finally here. There’s no edition of THN I enjoy participating in more. It’s our annual look at every NHL team’s development system, which consists of all its drafted talent not yet in the NHL, plus any NHLers aged 21 or younger. It’s on newsstands now. You can purchase it here.
A refresher on how Future Watch works: first, we consult personnel and scouts from every NHL franchise and come up with an updated list of their top 10 prospects. That gives us 310 players total. We then turn that group of 310 over to our hand-picked panel of scouts from around the NHL, who rank all the players, yielding an individual list of our top 100 prospects. The same scouting panel also looks at each franchise’s top 10, plus the franchise’s current NHLers aged 21 and younger, and grades each franchise, helping us determine top-31 rankings of the best development systems.
A lot of readers ask why we include the 21-and-younger NHLers in our “farm” rankings. Well, if a team’s youth development is going so well that its teenagers are jumping right to the NHL while another franchise’s teens are still in the minors, the team whose prospects are ahead of the curve should not be “punished” in the rankings, should it? Having elite kids younger than 21 is a positive thing. That’s why the Toronto Maple Leafs won our scouts poll this year. Not only do they have a deep farm system, but Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander are all young enough to factor into the grade.
As for our individual top 100: which kids not yet graduated to permanent NHL duty made the biggest rises over the past year? Here’s a look at the top 10.
Disclaimer 1: prospects drafted in 2017 don’t qualify, as they obviously weren’t ranked last year and thus have no comparison number to “rise” from. You hence won’t see an Elias Pettersson or Casey Mittelstadt on this list.
Disclaimer 2: just because your favorite prospect didn’t make this list doesn’t mean it’s bad news for him. Chances are, he was simply already ranked highly. Florida Panthers blue-chipper Henrik Borgstrom, for example, has enjoyed a fantastic year of development and is now our No. 10 overall prospect, but since he was 31st last year, that’s a 21-spot jump and not enough to make him a top “riser.”
1. JORDAN KYROU, RW, ST. LOUIS BLUES (+87)
Last year: 97th
This year: 12th
The game favors speed more than ever, and it’s starting to change the way scouts view prospects. The skilled, swift-skating Kyrou suddenly projects as a guy who will have more space to work with in the NHL than he would have even five years ago. That should get the Blues, who really need a secondary wave of scoring at the forward position, extremely excited. Kyrou has gone absolutely bananas with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting this season, rattling off 109 points in 56 games, and he led Team Canada’s world junior gold-medal squad with 10 points in seven games this winter. Since he also has strong two-way sensibilities, he has a real shot to make the Blues next season and join an exciting new wave of forwards including Tage Thompson, Robert Thomas and Klim Kostin.
2. CARTER HART, G, PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (+66)
Last year: not ranked in top 100
This year: 35th
We joke in the THN office that the only person who can end the Flyers “no long-term reliable starting goalie since Ron Hextall” curse is Ron Hextall, and it appears that’s going to happen once his draft pick Hart reaches the NHL. He isn’t the biggest goalie in the world, but he’s remarkably competitive, studious, consistent and fundamentally sound. How good has Hart been in 2017-18? his 1.81 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in a six-game sample with Canada at the WJC were downgrades from his season numbers. In 47 games with WHL Everett: 1.60 GAA and a .947 SP. Not typos.
We’ll see what the Flyers do with RFA Petr Mrazek, but they employ vets Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth on short-term deals for a reason. They want the throne ready for Hart in the next couple years.
3. NICK MERKLEY, RW, ARIZONA COYOTES (+52)
Last year: not ranked
This year: 49th
Merkley has thrived playing the wing on one of the AHL’s most dominant lines with Dylan Strome, with both of them earning All-Star Game invites. Has some of Merkley’s success been dependent on Strome? Maybe, but that doesn’t matter if the pair stays together at the NHL level someday. There’s no denying their chemistry, and Merkley is a brainy scorer. He does have to work on his foot speed, though. Whereas Strome is a big guy, Merkley is just 5-foot-11, so he needs to get faster if he doesn’t have size in his favor.
4. ADAM FOX, D, CALGARY FLAMES (+49)
Last year: not ranked
This year: 52nd
The Flames already have a deep blueline, but Fox projects as yet another valuable mobile defenseman who will make an impact at the NHL level. In Future Watch 2018, GM Brad Treliving praises Fox’s brain as his best attribute. Fox needs to add strength to his 5-foot-11, 185-pound frame, but he has time. Even if he decides to leave Harvard, turn pro and finish this season in the AHL, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him stay in Stockton at least a year before getting a look in the NHL. Three of the Flames’ top six D-men become UFAs by 2020-21, so Fox has until then to crack the lineup and make his case for a major role in Calgary’s future top four.
5. TRAVIS DERMOTT, D, TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (+47)
Last year: not ranked
This year: 54th
Dermott? What? He’s been a full-time NHLer for two months now! I can explain. Because Future Watch is such a big project and it takes a lot of time to tabulate all the scouting data, we conduct our voting a couple months before the magazine hits newsstands. At the time of this year’s vote, Dermott hadn’t broken through into Toronto’s lineup. Even now, he’s just 29 games into his NHL career. He’s been a revelation this season, establishing himself as a potential modern incarnation of a shutdown blueliner. He’s a bit undersized, and none of his skills really pops, but his intelligence and positioning make him a good shadower of opposing forwards.
6. BORIS KATCHOUK, LW, TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (+40)
Last year: not ranked
This year: 61st
Here’s yet another member of Canada’s WJC gold medal squad to crack the top 10 – and more follow below. It seems the tourney win had an influence on our scouting panel. Katchouk is a power forward who can do the little things like kill penalties and, with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, his offense has made exactly the kind of leap you want to see from a second-tier prospect. The high-flying Lightning want him to keep improving his skating before considering him a candidate for their NHL roster.
7. TAYLOR RADDYSH, RW, TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (+37)
Last year: 99th
This year: 62nd
While Raddysh wasn’t drafted as an A-list prospect – Tampa snagged him at the end of 2016’s second round – he’s such a pure scorer that he has a sneaky-high ceiling. A mid-season trade to Sault Ste. Marie reunited him with Canada and Lightning teammate Katchouk and seemed to light a match under Raddysh. He’s sniped 18 goals in 28 games with his new club.
8. KALE CLAGUE, D, LOS ANGELES KINGS (+36)
Last year: 94th
This year: 58th
Any defenseman flirting with not one, but two points per game turns heads, and Clague was doing that with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings before a mid-season trade to the contending Moose Jaw Warriors. He’s a smooth-skating, crafty offensive defenseman. He’s a left shot, but it’s still natural to picture him as a long-term replacement for Drew Doughty should he leave as a UFA next summer. Clague isn’t nearly as big and physical, but he projects as an NHLer who could at least fill the void in terms of pure point production.
9. JONATHAN DAHLEN, C, VANCOUVER CANUCKS (+35)
Last year: not ranked
This year: 66th
The Ottawa Senators re-signed Alexander Burrows, then 35, to a two-year contract extension immediately after acquiring him from the Vancouver Canucks for prospect Dahlen in 2017. A year later: the Sens placed Burrows on waivers last month, while Dahlen is one of Future Watch’s top risers. Sorry, Sens fans. The Canucks are slow-cooking Dahlen, and he battled mononucleosis this year in the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second division, but he still managed to light up that league. He should cross over to the AHL when his season ends overseas, and the Canucks will hope he’s NHL-ready by 2019-20. Their management team loves his quick hands.
10. NIKITA SCHERBAK, RW, MONTREAL CANADIENS (+35)
Last year: 98th
This year: 63rd
Finally something to cheer about, Habs fans! Like Dermott, Scherbak was in the AHL when our scouting poll closed. Now he’s up with the big club. So why the noteworthy jump in rank in our scouting panel members’ eyes? Commitment to defense after working hard with Laval coach Sylvain Lefebvre. The raw offensive skills were always good enough for the NHL. Scherbak simply had to mature. He’s looked good during his call-up, even earning some power play time, and it’s possible he stays in the NHL for good at this point.